The fire fatality rate in West Virginia is three times higher than the national average according to West Virginia University Extension Service experts, and they encourage residents to participate in National Fire Prevention Week from Oct. 4-10.

The week’s theme is “Hear the beep where you sleep,” a reminder about properly placed and functioning smoke detectors, especially in sleeping areas.

Mark Lambert, director of the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension, said while this year’s theme is a great start in ensuring safety, it’s also an opportunity for all West Virginians to assess the entire readiness plan of their home in case of a fire emergency.

“It doesn’t require expensive, specialized equipment or training to stay safe — more attention to prevention and planning in case of an emergency is all that’s required to better protect yourself and loved ones,” said Lambert.

Echoing the week’s theme, Lambert recommended starting with smoke detectors, as they play the most pivotal role in emergency readiness — early alert.

“It may seem like a message that gets repeated over and over again, but the importance of a functioning smoke detector is vital — it cuts the risk of a fire fatality approximately in half,” he said. “Ensure that all family members understand that an alarm is serious and not something to be taken lightly.”

Start by ensuring there are smoke detectors on every level of the home, in every bedroom and outside all sleeping areas, including those where naps may take place. Using interconnected units provides extra safety.

“Many people who die in fires are actually killed from smoke inhalation,” said Lambert. “So, in the event of a fire, sleeping with a closed bedroom door can block smoke and give you extra time to escape, but only if you have functioning, interconnected units throughout your home to awaken you at the first sign of trouble.”

Replace the units ten years from the date of manufacture and make sure that batteries are functioning with monthly testing.

However, being alerted to danger is only part of the equation. Lambert highlighted the importance of developing and practicing an escape plan, something only 30 percent of Americans do according to National Fire Protection Agency research.

Stressing that everyone can benefit from an emergency escape plan, from typical family units to roommates, Lambert suggested to start by making the plan with everyone in the household present.

Do a walkthrough, and identify the best exits for different scenarios, and ensure doors and windows can be opened easily.

From there, assign roles to members. For instance, if there are infants, heavy sleepers, older adults or people with mobility issues, make sure someone is assigned to assist them in exiting safely. Then, choose a meeting place a safe distance away from the home.

For a final measure of prevention and protection to combat small-scale fires, such as those that occur in the kitchen or on the grill, a fire extinguisher can prove invaluable.

Lambert suggested only using an extinguisher if everyone else has exited the building to safety.

When using a fire extinguisher, remember the word, “PASS.”

• Pull the pin, holding the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you.
• Aim low, toward the base of the fire.
• Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
• Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

“Ultimately, if the flames are too large and too hot for you to comfortably use a fire extinguisher, it’s time to leave it to the professionals and evacuate to safety,” said Lambert. “Remember, once you exit a burning structure, never go back inside for valuables or other items — once everyone is out, stay out.”

For general information and tips on fire safety, contact WVU Fire Service Extension at 304.269.0875 or visit



CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service

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